11 December 2018

The risen Jesus: hard to recognise

Fresco by Giotto,
Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi
According to the Synoptic Gospels, the risen Jesus who was seen by his disciples was at first difficult to recognise. After the initial difficulty, however, the disciples seem to have had no doubt that it was indeed him.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’

‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’.

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’). Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.’ (John 20:11-17)
Possibly parts of the Jesus story are apocryphal. However, as Richard Bauckham points out, this particular element seems an odd thing to have invented if there was no factual basis for it.
I think this pattern of non-recognition followed by identification of Jesus, which we find in several of the stories of his appearances after the resurrection, is one of the rather odd features that make these stories credible as genuine testimony from those who experienced them. Would they have made this feature up? Why should they?